Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Insulting Atatürk

I first posted about Canan Bezirgan in June. After saying she did not like Atatürk on television in November 2000 and becoming the center of a media frenzy, Bezirgan made the decision to move to Canada. With the help of Human Rights Watch, she gained asylum status in Canada. In 2006, Bezirgan returned to Turkey--she found Canada much too "liberal" in morals--and soon became faced with prosecution for her 2000 remarks. Under the Turkish Penal Code, it is a crime to insult Atatürk and the Supreme Leader's legacy. From BIA-Net:
Beyoğlu/Istanbul prosecutor Muzaffer Yalçın saw no need to try Nuray Canan Bezirgan and Kevser Çakır, who were accused of insulting Atatürk, founder of the Turkish Republic, because of their statement that “I do not like Atatürk, I like Humeyni.”

According to the report by ntvmsnbc, prosecutor’s reasoning was that there was no need for special laws to protect Atatürk’s value.

Although the prosecutor says this, the Law 5816 About Crimes Against Atatürk, which went into effect in 1951, is still in place. Many people, among them writer Mustafa İslamoğlu, journalist Hakan Albayrak, owner of Peri Publishing Ahmet Önal, Professor Atilla Yayla, journalist İpek Çalışlar, publishers Ragıp Zarakolu and Fatih Taş, translators Lütfi Taylan Tosun and Aysel Yıldırım, administrator of Özgür-Der Children’s Club Zehra Çomaklı Türkmen, journalists Mehmet Terzi and Oral Çalışlar, were tried because of this law. Some of these individuals received jail sentences.

Liking is a matter of heart
In the television program she was interviewed, Bezirgan had asked if she had the right not to like Atatürk.

According to Prosecutor Yalçın’s reasoning:

“Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is a national hero. As a national hero and a revolutionary, he took his place in the histories of Turks and Turkish Republic as well as the World History. As Atatürk’s value will not diminish just because someone said a bad thing about him, there is no need for special laws to protect his value. It is true that there are those who do not like Atatürk. Liking someone is a matter of heart; it is inside one’s heart.” (EÜ/EZÖ/TB)
Although Yalçın made the decision not to pursue Bezirgan's prosecution, another prosecutor might have just as easily brought the case to court. The most notable case to be brought to trial under the Atatürk statute this year was that of Atilla Yayla. Yayla was found guilty in January of this year and sentenced to 3 months in prison (although the sentence was suspended).

It is very difficult to talk or write about Atatürk, and it is something I have been careful to avoid (and advised to avoid). However, Turkish Daily News columnist Mustafa Akyol has not been so reluctant to launch criticism of how Turkey handles Atatürk's legacy, which he has described as characterized by a kind of personality cult--indeed, it is one of the columnists most frequent touched upon subjects. It cannot be stressed enough that Akyol's criticism is not of Atatürk, but rather of how the leader's legacy has been handled throughout the country's history. Akyol's treatment of Atatürk's legacy sometimes shocks even me--an outsider--in its strong criticism of what the columnist sees as a set of practices that hinder Turkey's political development, but his obervations hold weight and the problems he isolates certainly join the other obstacles Turkish democracy must struggle to overcome. Here are four most provacative columns Akyol has authored:

The Atatürk Silhouette on the Holy Mountain

Why Most 'Educated' Turks Are Hopelessly Illiberal

'How Dare You Not Love Atatürk?!'

The Heinous Attack on the Penis of Atatürk's Horse

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